Flowers for Algernon is a character study of one man, Charlie Gordon. Charlie is a 32-year-old developmentally disabled man who has the opportunity to undergo a surgical procedure that will dramatically increase his mental capabilities. This procedure had already been performed on a laboratory mouse, Algernon, with remarkable results. Charlie will be the first human subject.
In a series of progress reports, Charlie documents everything that happens to him. As Charlie's intelligence increases to a genius level, the reader not only reads about the changes from Charlie's viewpoint, but also sees the change evidenced in Charlie's writing ability. This jump in intelligence is not necessarily a good thing, however. Charlie is now able to recall past events that shaped his life and analyze past friendships for what they were, or weren't. He also has difficulty making new friendships and establishing new relationships due to a lack of social intelligence that the surgery could neither correct nor anticipate. And, finally, because of his increased intelligence, Charlie is able to discover the experiment's "fatal flaw" and is reduced to watching the end for both Algernon and himself, hoping to salvage something for the future from his brief bout with genius.